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As I was the reading sheet music for John Coltrane's A Love Supreme, I noticed a chord I had never seen before. It looks like this:

enter image description here

I'm familiar with slash chords, but never had to practically encounter a polychord like Gm over Fm7.

The notes would be G, Bb, D played on top of F, Ab, C, Eb. Is this feasible to play on a six-string guitar? In other words, is there any theory of consolidation in terms of playing polychords with limited space?

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+1 That's a great question! We need more like this. –  luser droog May 13 '13 at 5:37
What is the source of this chord chart? I lost about 15 real/fake books about 8 years ago, (different people transcribe these things in different ways); and it's been a decade since I listened to this album... you would probably be well served listening to Coltrane's version to get a real sense of what's going on, a huge mistake many guitarists make is playing to many notes in a chord; soloists appreciate a little space to work with... this could be as simple as bass plays the root, guitar plays minor 3rd & 7th, and the soloist plays anything else he wants to add (give him room to blow)! –  David Axtell Moore II May 15 '13 at 16:05
@DavidAxtellMooreII: The sheet music is from a Hal Leonard book called "The Music of John Coltrane." What is special about the chord chart in parentheses is that they were provided by Alice Coltrane. Besides being John's wife, she also played/performed as pianist with his band. So I certainly take her transcriptions as among the most respected. –  Aryeh May 16 '13 at 7:43
@Aryeh - That does seem pretty definitive doesn't it? Although that does point out the difference between the way pianists think in terms of polychords (two-hands, ten fingers on 88 keys) vs. guitarists with six strings (7 or 8, but lets think traditionally for simplicities sake) and only 4 fingers in the left hand. Most of what I'e learned about polychords from a pianist's point of view were from Frank Mantooth's books on quartal harmony voicings link. A good book for pianists/arrangers... TBC... –  David Axtell Moore II Jun 5 '13 at 21:10
@Aryeh - oddly (ironically) these voicings are tricky on piano, but easy on guitar... guitar's are tuned in 4ths after all, except the 2nd/3rd strings of course. So oddly, I find cluster/close type chord voicings (2nd's etc.) much more interesting and colorful on guitar... which are easy on piano... but hard on guitar. Check out John Stowell type of "close" voicings as a contrast between the two concepts... (both really cool...) –  David Axtell Moore II Jun 5 '13 at 21:25

3 Answers 3

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Unless you have a seven string guitar, this chord is impossible to play on guitar if you want all chord degrees represented. Since it is a G-minor chord over an Fm7, you can really think of the total composite chord as an Fm13, which is a pretty standard jazz chord for guitarists. . . or any jazz player for that matter.

What notes you leave out in part depends on the ensemble you're playing in. For example, if you're playing in a jazz trio with guitar, sax, and drums then you're going to need to cover at least some of the rudimentary harmony (root, third, seventh, etc) with a frugal selection of upper-tertian harmony (say, the ninth and thirteenth.) Choosing a five-note chord in this way is good for having an active bass line, which is important if you're playing fingerstyle.

If you're playing with a bassist or a pianist (or both) then usually with upper-tertian chords the guitar plays a lot of the "active" or "filler" harmonies - notably chord extensions and other active tones.

On the other hand, if you want to show a clear delineation between the chords (such as Coltrane notated) then it would be wise for you to voice the Fm7 below a Gm triad. Since you will have to obviously omit one note, the fifth of the Fm7 would be omitted since it is a four note chord and the fifth is almost always omitted first as it is the least harmonically active of the pitches.

Thus, an example of an appropriate voicing would be (from lowest to highest):

F, Ab, Eb, G, Bb, D

That said, the lead sheet does not indicate the inversion of the chord, so feel free to experiment with shapes that give you the easiest flexibility - as long as the two chords remain separate. As indicated in the score, one or both chords may be in inversion if necessary.

Hope that helps.

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...and it'd be quite the finger twister on a seven string in standard tuning. –  Shawn Strickland May 13 '13 at 4:36
with a low B, that'd be 6-4-3-1-0-.. or would you barré at 3 and drop the Eb? –  luser droog May 13 '13 at 5:48
Harmonically speaking it is better to drop the C as it is least harmonically active. Though if the OP were playing with a pianist / bassist they could drop the F and the C since those notes are typically covered by LH piano / bass. Regarding the voicing, there are dozens of different voicings and positions for a chord on the guitar, which is why it's important to experiment! Everyone has chord shapes they favor with their playing style. –  jjmusicnotes May 13 '13 at 6:51
Your 1st para - an F13 would contain an A, not an Ab,so maybe an Fm13 ? –  Tim May 13 '13 at 8:19
Yes, you're correct - a minor oversight on my part. Haha, get it? I'll correct it now. –  jjmusicnotes May 13 '13 at 17:40

Possibly the chord marked is not just for guitarists. To get a good voicing, the notes need to be spread over maybe 3 octaves - not easy on a guitar.With clashes like G and Ab and D and Eb,the notes won't sound good next to each other, on any instrument. When they're nearly an octave apart, they often sound great.As there are 7 notes anyway, at least one would have to be sacrificed- as usual on guitar when playing extended chords - just get someone else in the band to play the missing ones ! I guess that if the potentially clashing notes were played on different instruments with different tones/sounds, it could sound o.k. Try one basic chord on guitar while the keyboard plays the other.No, I've never seen this sort of 'slash chord' before either.

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This type of notation is for a polychord, where two individual chords are overlayed onto one another to form a new composite chords. This is different from "slash" chords which only tell you which note is in the bass. –  jjmusicnotes May 13 '13 at 17:42
Closely voiced notes are cool! this is Coltrane! I go out of my way to add seconds in a voicing, go look up a Guitarist named John Stowell. >"Stowell holds his guitar in a diagonal position, which facilitates playing close, piano-like voicings more comfortably."[en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Stowell] –  David Axtell Moore II May 15 '13 at 15:49
I guess one other way to call this chord could be Gm7b9b6sus4 so it does make more sense to name it with 2 separate well-known chords instead. –  Tim May 16 '13 at 8:17

The "lazy" way to play ordinary slash chords, is for something chordal in the mid-range (like a guitar, or right hand piano) to play the chord above the slash, and for something monophonic in the bass range (like a bass guitar, or left hand piano) to play the note below the slash.

I wonder whether an adaptation of that would apply here. The mid-range instrument plays Gm, the bass plays an arpeggio, or similar, using notes from Fm7.


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Poly chords are intended to be a very harmonically full sounding chord. Splitting the polychord between two instruments negates the polychordal musical effect and thus renders it useless. It is best in this circumstance for guitarists to choose a couple notes from both chords and play them together - leaving the bass / piano to fill out any other necessary harmonies. –  jjmusicnotes May 13 '13 at 17:45

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